I’m honestly not so worried about the defense.  This team needs to find a way to relax and stop forcing things.  We know they can play very good defense.  That hasn’t gone away.  Just their level of play has.

What’s more worrying is the pitching.  Pitching’s harder to tweak and fix.  Pitching can fluctuate from year to year.  But practically everyone’s fluctuated this year.  Lincecum.  Cain.  Vogelsong…oh, especially Vogelsong.  Zito’s actually just…Zito.  And Bumgarner seems to have caught it now.

The backup options in the system don’t look all that good.  Mike Kickham seems to be the top of the list.  This is a pitcher that I’ve rarely considered as a top prospect.  He feels more like a back-of-the-rotation, long-relief and maybe a journeyman style career.  Maybe Shane Loux.  Hell, Chad Gaudin feels like a better option right now.

And don’t look now, but the top pitching prospects are in Single-A ball right now.  Kyle Crick has fought injuries, and made only three starts.  Although he has only a 0.93 ERA, he has a team-high 1.97 WHIP, and only owes his low ERA to a lot of unearned runs having come in.  (Well, he’d be ready for this team right now.)  Clayton Blackburn has struggled as of late after a strong start, with a 4.39 ERA and a 2-2 record after giving up five runs in each of his last three starts.  Chris Stratton is way down in Low-A Augusta, with a 3.38 ERA.  He’s been effective, but hasn’t been dominating as some had hoped.

So, don’t look now, but the Giants have a possible THREE rotation spots open after this season…and no obvious prospects to fill such roles right away.

You know what this means?  Two things…

• The pitchers are throwing themselves into the short-term contracts the Giants may be hoping to get them on.

• You’re going to hear a lot more bitching in the coming year about how the Giants traded away Zack Wheeler in 2011.  The same Zack Wheeler who is considered one of the top pitching prospects in baseball, and is about to make the majors.  @LOLKNBRCallers, you know what to do.